This evening I went to the Kendall Cinema to watch “Gonzo,” the latest documentary about Hunter S. Thompson. Afterwards, in honor of the doctor, I wrote the following letter to Rolling Stone magazine:
To Rolling Stone,
Several months ago you began stamping my name and address on piles of dead trees and convincing the United States postal service to drop these unrequested items on my doorstep.
I like reading your magazine. It’s fun getting it delivered, and I enjoy learning about music and politics over breakfast. However, my respect for your business practices has been damaged by the action these deliveries represent: misuse of my personal information. I have never subscribed to your magazine. Rather, you purchased my name and address and hope to profit from it. You’re using me to beef up your “subscribers” list, lower the average age of your “readers,” and appease your shareholders.
Is this practice really in keeping with the concept of freedom that America, and your magazine, theoretically represent? I believe that a free country is one in which I can correspond with my friends, ride the subway, buy a book or rent a movie without having my actions tracked, my behavior analyzed and automated systems send me glossy packages afterwards in a manipulative attempt to milk me for my time and money.
As demonstrated by the growing amount of resources dedicated to the anti-spam industry, receipt of information is not free. Every time you or one of your business contemporaries sells my information, you contribute to the growing stack of mail which drowns my legitimate correspondence and sucks away my time and attention.
I understand that the magazine industry is rapidly changing, and in order to stay competitive, you must evolve your business strategies. Current fashion in the business world is to harvest information from individuals through enticement, theft and legitimate service, and then to sell or trade that information for profit behind the scenes. It is no wonder that you’ve chosen this technique. However, at one time, it was fashionable to buy and sell people in this country in order to stay competitive in the business world. Buying and selling people’s personal information without their knowledge and permission is just another, more subtle evolution of this exploitation.
Over the years, Rolling Stone’s authors and editors have often expressed strong support of social justice and individual freedom. This is what drew me to purchase your magazine at newsstands in the past, and the reason that I am taking the time to write to you today. I’d like to purchase your magazine in the future, but I can’t in good conscience support the unsolicited harvest and trade of personal information. I hope that you will publicly practice the values that your staff have so eloquently supported over the years by showing more respect for people’s time, attention and privacy.
To provide financial incentive, I’d like you to know that I will not purchase or read your magazine again until you:
1) Remove my personal information from your systems;
2) Assure me that in the future, you will never buy or sell my personal information without my explicit permission;
3) Donate $25 to the Electronic Frontier Foundation for the time I have spent responding to your repeated unsolicited mail.
I am not for sale, and neither is my personal information.